Nathan, a long-time friend of Danielle’s, was truly my first Mad life-line. They have brought me magic, and reflection, and resonance, and healing in so many forms. We have dreamed together for years about art and life projects that are too numerous to count, some traces of which were present in Mad Home. Most of these, as Nathan so beautifully puts it, are “undone” (not half-done!). In the “undone” lies a sustained bubbling of magnetic creative energy, newly imagined pasts and futures, a commitment to growing old together, and deep tenderness for our affectionately (and seriously) termed difficulties living in “earth-time” (a term I learned from Nathan that is an intensely affirming reminder that time is constructed, often to our exclusion).
Beyond admiring dales’ activist practices for many years, I was fortunate enough to spend summers with them in 2016 and 2017. We’d dig in the dirt, plant nourishment, share about how sanist violence has played out in our lives, and dream about affirming spaces for existing with mental distress. We imagined together about non-traditional holistic healing centers that do not pathologize, a place to go for support without threat of institutionalization, an accessible way for someone to come and sit with you when you want to die. dales’ self and community healing practices, enacted through intimate conversations, dance party DJing, space crafting (both earthly and stellar), and online provocations to name a few, have moved me immeasurably and offered vital scaffolding for the construction of Mad Home even before we knew what we were building.
Alexis and I have shared a stage, and we work together with CRIPSiE’s board, but it was her gift for crafting community through food that was one of the more intimate ways that we connected before Mad Home. She graced our kitchen for weekly vegan gluten-free brunches that were designed with deep care for two different (and somewhat conflicting) medical-related diets that Danielle and I were attempting at the time. Our time together was a nourishing reprieve, an island of possible in what felt impossible. We came together messy and hopeless and giggly and honest, floating in and out of conversations on crip and Mad living and loving, and filling our bellies with wonderful easy feasts. Her approach to crip world-making through food, using her stump and her heart and her joy, brought me to a deep valuation of how making and eating together can be a vital political act.
I have learned of Sarah’s wonder in part through dancing, in part through support work that she has provided with CRIPSiE, and in part through our shared experiences of navigating the completion of an occupational therapy degree with experiences of mental distress. Her thoughtful, generous, and intensely collaborative ways of being with disability, in work and play and friendship, have long been a model for the ways in which I hope to exist. Her celebration of the critical importance of personal experiences of disability in occupational therapy practice remains an exemplar and an engine for my own continued engagement with the field. Her labours of love in bringing plant babies to life, and divining home with her community, and attending to sensory needs and pleasures and possibilities, are parts of Sarah’s artful ways of living that have sparked me, and are also central to many of the elements that make up Mad Home.
Each of these people also had various connections to each other before the project started, either through queer community, activist organizing, single degrees of separation that included “you must meet this person!”, or online admiration of each other’s work and ways of living. Working with these friends on this project makes space to honour the notion that thought is always already co-created (Manning, 2008; McCormack, 2008; Portanova, 2008). If we take the co-created nature of knowledge seriously, collaborative research is a valuable tool for co-creating and sharing embodied, experiential, presentational, and practical knowledge (Heron & Reason, 1997; Liamputtong & Rumbold, 2008). As Manning (2008) argues, “movements of thought are thinkings-with as much as thinkings-about” (p. 17). Undoubtedly, even before its official inception, this project was already a “thinking-with” (Manning, 2008, p. 17), as well as a making-with, doing-with, and being-with.
This ‘thinking-with’ also calls upon an expansive web that connects us to ancestors across time and space. Also critical in the web of relations that enable our thinking-with-doing-with-being-with in Mad Home is the land we occupy. Being white and white-passing settlers, it is vital that we acknowledge that we make our home on stolen land. As settlers with white and white-passing privilege, our capacity to make home in Amiskwacîwâskahikan is enabled by structural violences enacted through histories and presents of colonialism, eugenics, and cultural genocide.
We acknowledge that the land we gather on is Amiskwacîwâskahikan, a traditional meeting ground and home for many Indigenous Peoples, including Papaschase, Cree, Dene, Saulteaux, Blackfoot, Métis, Ojibwe, and Nakota Sioux. We acknowledge and hold space in our home for those of us who could not be here in physical form today. We acknowledge our peers across time and space - who did, are doing, or are desiring this work, who may be or have been prevented from doing it, and those who will do it in the future. This was a particularly important point of reflection for us, as we talked through how to acknowledge those who we are in relation with in this kind of artful living. Our work is in conversation, for example, with past and present (and future) artists, and academics, and the other Mad folks that Ruth Ruth importantly insisted we recognize. Ruth Ruth stated that: we are descendants [of Mad ancestors] … so a hundred years ago we would have been locked up, but now we are able to pursue higher education! And have meaningful lives, and make social change. We are duty bound to make social change because we come from the margins. Notwithstanding the fact that many people are still locked up around the world, differentially based on race and class and gender and sexual orientation and disability, I resonate with Ruth Ruth’s call to acknowledge our ancestors and to mobilize both our privilege and our marginality.
We also create our Mad Home in relation with theorists, and for me, Ahmed’s (2017) work echoes off the walls of Mad Home. Certainly, Ahmed dances with madness throughout Living a Feminist Life (2017). She writes on “shattering experience” (p. 12) and personal and collective “breaking points” (p. 187) and “losing it” (p. 194) and the feminist “snap: when she can’t take it anymore” (p. 190). She writes of the killjoy, “one who does not make the happiness of others her cause. When she is not willing to make their happiness her cause, she causes unhappiness” (p. 74-75). She goes further, stating: "We can be made ill by a diagnosis of being ill. So many feminist women lived their lives at the border of sanity. Feminists have paid a high price for the failure to give up their will and their desire. A feminist history is thus hard to disentangle from a diagnostic history, a mad history, or a history of madness. Not only have feminists been agitators, many have, in agitating, crossed the border between sane and mad, a crossing that his led to confinement and death. Many feminists became what Shayda Kafai (2013) calls astutely ‘mad border bodies,’ bodies that expose the instability of the distinction between sanity and madness in how they travel through time and space." (p. 76) In this project, we are in conversation with Mad, and feminist, and anti-racist, and queer, and trans being-and-thinking-and-doing. We are also in conversation with: site specific art practices (Kwon, 2002); dialogic art practices (Kester, 2004); art centering labour and care and support and ‘social practice’ (Jackson, 2011); life-as-art and sensorial art and food-based art practices (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, 1999); crip art that makes space for pleasure in pain and harm, such as Bob Flanagan’s work (see McRuer, 2006); and Mad performance like Marni Kotak’s Mad Meds (see Schwendener, 2014) and Kupper’s Traces (2004). These are some of the ancestors, the agitators, the “mad border bodies” (Kafai, 2013) of pasts, presents and futures, who we hope to think-with-do-with-be-with in our Mad Home work.